Photo: Chema Domenech
Hill Country Wildlife
The Hill Country is an incredibly ecologically diverse landscape that is home to native species found nowhere else in the world. Land stewardship, protection of open space and thriving populations of wildlife go hand-in-hand — healthy populations of native wildlife demonstrate that your land is part of a functioning ecosystem. Documents and links on this page provide information on native Hill Country wildlife species and managing land for wildlife.
Axis Deer Control Project
Axis deer are an exotic species that were introduced from India to the Texas Hill Country in the 1930s. Since their introduction, this species has proliferated in several portions of the Hill Country, adversely impacting native wildlife, agricultural production, and riparian, or creek-side, habitat. The Hill Country Alliance is involved in an Axis Deer Control Project serving Gillespie County – details here. The goal of the Axis Deer Control Project is to raise awareness about the impacts of free-ranging Axis deer, recognize land stewards for their efforts to control this exotic species, and support research that will improve management.
Impacts to White-Tailed Deer
Exotic species such as Axis deer can out-compete native white-tailed deer because of several traits. Axis are able to shift their diet to grasses, once they have eaten desirable forbs and browse. White-tailed deer, however, cannot switch their diet preference, and will eventually suffer from malnutrition if grass is the only available vegetation.
Texas Tech University Ph.D. student, Matthew Buchholz, adds that Axis deer are also physically larger and more aggressive than native white-tailed deer. They can browse on their hind legs between 6 – 7 feet and, when in herds that can exceed 150 animals, may physically displace white-tailed deer and other animals from optimal habitat and food sources.
Impacts to Agricultural Production
High-fencing can be cost-prohibitive for some landowners and they are seeing losses with grain crops such as corn, milo, and Kline grass, as well as cereal crops such as wheat and oats.
During a recent drought, Peggy Sechrist recalls watching a herd of approximately 75 Axis deer migrating up and down the Pedernales River and into her pastures. “We watched the Axis compete with our cattle for grass and eventually we destocked our livestock in order to save our soil health while we strategized a plan to decrease Axis numbers.”
Impacts to Riparian Areas
Free-ranging Axis deer prefer riparian habitat along rivers and their tributary creeks. When riparian areas are characterized with a diversity and abundance of deep-rooted, native plants, they provide a variety of values such as flood mitigation, erosion control, fish and wildlife habitat, and improved water quality.
Along some stretches of the Pedernales, Guadalupe, and Llano Rivers, free-ranging Axis deer are denuding riparian vegetation: native switchgrass and eastern gamagrass; oak, pecan, sumac, persimmon, and cedar elm trees; and a variety of sedges. When riparian vegetation is excessively removed—whether from free-ranging Axis deer, mowing to the water’s edge, or continuous grazing—these areas no longer function properly to provide the values we all seek.
Unlike white-tailed deer, which have a set hunting season, Axis deer may be hunted year-round with a hunting license; they may also be trapped.
Helpful Links & Additional Information
Recent Wildlife News
The non-profit environmental organization, The Hill Country Alliance plays a vital role in preserving the beauty of the hill country of Texas. Their mission is: “The mission of the Hill Country Alliance is to bring together an ever-expanding alliance of groups throughout a multi- county region of Central Texas with the long-term objective of preserving open…
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is looking to expand public access to fishing and paddling on Texas rivers through leased access agreements with streamside landowners. Private streamside properties are essential to achieving this goal, and TPWD is requesting applications from landowners for the River Access and Conservation Areas program. “Texas has over 40,000 miles of…
Twenty-seven years ago, Deborah Morin watched as the hills, streams, caves, and springs of the Hill Country outside of Austin were being gobbled up by construction... Almost three decades later, Morin, a San Antonio native, is at the head of a nonprofit working to do just that, but on a much larger scale. She’s president of…
Last week, Black researchers and avian enthusiasts flocked to social media to participate in the first ever Black Birders Week (May 31-June 5). “Growing up, there weren’t many outlets showing diversity, so I was only able to be inspired by white conservationists and naturalists,” said Tolga Aktas, a conservation biologist based in the UK. “The Black…